Roberta Lanzino, 19, was a happy and energetic young woman on the cusp of a promising future. Family pictures show her beauty and zest for life.
Roberta and her family resided in Rende, a small city in Cosenza, Calabria, in southern Italy.
She was a typical teenage girl who loved dressing up and having fun. Her parents, Franco and Matilda Lanzino, owned a beach house between the seaside towns of San Lucido and Torremezzo in the Miccisi district.
By the summer of 1988, Roberta had completed her first year of college at the University of Calabria in Rende, where she studied Economics and Social Sciences. After all her hard work, she was ready for a fun and relaxing summer at the family’s beach home.
On July 26, 1988, the Lanzinos packed their belongings and headed to San Lucido.
Roberta decided to ride her blue Piaggio Si scooter while her parents followed behind in their car. Franco and Matilda stopped to purchase a watermelon and fill two water tanks with water from a public fountain.
Roberta knew their plans to stop, but she continued without them.
The highway to the coast is well-traveled and busy during the summer. It is also narrow, with many curves, a couple of switchbacks, and some tunnels. Fearing an accident, Roberta took an old road known as Falconara to the locals, which leads to Falconara Albanese. But she was unfamiliar with the road and became lost in the mountains.
Roberta stopped and asked several people for directions, including three farmers — brothers Luigi and Rosario Frangella and their cousin Giuseppe Frangella. Two other men in a light brown Fiat 131 Miarafiori pulled alongside her on the road. Roberta was never seen alive again.
Franco and Matilda arrived at their beach home, but Roberta was not there. They immediately panicked, thinking she might have gotten into an accident. They briefly searched for their daughter before the police and a group of locals joined them.
Shortly after midnight, searchers found Roberta’s scooter in the Falconara Albanese mountains intact and with no signs of damage.
A few yards away lay Roberta’s half-naked body in some bushes. Her jeans had been ripped off, and her shirt and bra pushed up toward her neck. The shoulder pads of her jacket crammed into her mouth, which suffocated her. She had multiple defense wounds, facial injuries, and a gash to her throat that severed her carotid artery, causing a massive hemorrhage.
The coroner said she had been sexually assaulted and killed “with ferocious, inhuman violence.” He believed the killer(s) attacked Roberta elsewhere and dumped her body in the mountains. The area is full of brambles, yet there were no scratches on her body from the brush. Furthermore, severing the carotid artery would have resulted in a considerable amount of blood loss not found at the crime scene. Where her attackers viciously assaulted Roberta has never been determined.
Officials collected seminal fluid found on Roberta’s body, but DNA testing was in its early stages, so they stored the samples instead.
The first people accused of the crime were the Frangella men. Rosario Frangella had been hospitalized several times for mental illness. He seemed the likely culprit, especially after police found blood on his pants, later determined not to belong to Roberta.
A dirty blue man’s handkerchief at the crime scene matched one seen while searching Giuseppe Frangella’s home.
Police noticed that Guiseppe had scratches on his arms. He claimed he received them during the discovery of Roberta’s moped. However, no one remembered seeing him there. Franco Lanzino, who went to Guiseppe’s home to ask if the man had seen his daughter, was struck by Guiseppe’s odd behavior. Guiseppe suggested Franco look elsewhere.
Luigi Frangella told investigators that he gave Roberta directions while working in the fields and saw Giuseppe pass by in his van immediately after Roberta left. Giuseppe claimed he noticed both of his cousins running around in intense agitation later in the afternoon when Roberta disappeared.
Police arrested all three men and charged them with murder.
Unfortunately, Roberta’s clothing — jeans, shirt, underwear, shoes, and bra — disappeared along the line. On March 1, 1989, a local television program covered Roberta’s murder. An anonymous caller said some clothes, except for her shirt and bra, had been destroyed.
Officials found those items a few months later. During the appeal process, they had previously been handed over to an expert appointed by the Court of Cosenza from the forensic medicine department at the University of Genoa. The expert claimed to have discarded the bra and shirt due to insufficient space.
Another person claimed that the Corte d’Assise of Appeal of Catanzaro ordered the garments destroyed at the end of the Frangellas’ trial when all three men were found not guilty of Roberta’s murder. Many people criticized the courts for not preserving evidence that officials could use in the future.
One of the biggest obstacles to Roberta getting the justice she deserved was the ‘Ndrangheta law of silence. It prevented certain witnesses from reporting information they knew regarding Roberta’s murder.
According to OCCRP, “The ‘Ndrangheta has risen to become not only Italy’s most powerful mafia but also one of the largest and most sophisticated criminal organizations in the world.”
Going against the ‘Ndrangheta is a surefire way to get killed. However, former crime boss Franco Pino broke the law of silence in 2000 and revealed he had information about Roberta’s murder.
Pino said that while he was in prison, he received the names of the two men driving the Fiat 131 — Luigi Carbone and Franco Sansone, both linked to the ‘Ndrangheta.
Criminals Marcello Calano and Romeo Calano willingly gave the information to Pino in retaliation against a man who allegedly killed their friend, Carbone. They also said that Carbone and Sansone sexually assaulted and killed Roberta.
Carbone disappeared in November 1989 and is presumed murdered, a victim of lupara bianca or “white shotgun,” a Mafia-style killing.
Sansone eventually went to trial over Roberta’s murder. In 2015, the public prosecutor asked for his acquittal after DNA testing of seminal fluid taken from Roberta’s body ruled out Carbone and Sansone. The trial resulted in “no evidence, no guilt,” and the magistrate confirmed Sansone’s acquittal.
Five murders, including Carbone’s, have been linked to Roberta’s killing.
Alfredo Sansone, warrant officer of the prison police, and herdsmen Libero Sansone and Pietro Calabria were all found dead in Ferrera di Paola in March 1989. Rosaria Genovese was strangled to death in 1990.
All of the victims knew the details of Roberta’s murder, so someone or some people permanently silenced them. It is believed that members of the ‘Ndrangheta were responsible.
Thirty-five years after her brutal murder, there has been no justice for Roberta. Her parents established the Roberta Lanzino Foundation to keep Roberta’s memory alive and fight violence against women. Her father, Franco Lanzino, passed away on May 7, 2022.